The Bayeux Tapestry is one of the most well known and interesting pieces of artwork from the Middle Ages. In the feature, we will take you into what you need to know about the Bayeux Tapestry.
The tapestry is a band of linen 231 feet (70 metres) long and 19.5 inches (49.5 cm) wide, now light brown with age, on which are embroidered, in worsteds of eight colours, more than 70 scenes representing the Norman Conquest of England. The story begins with a prelude to Harold’s visit to Bosham on his way to Normandy (1064?) and ends with the flight of Harold’s English forces from Hastings (October 1066); originally, the story may have been taken further, but the end of the strip was either not completed or later removed.
Along the top and the bottom run decorative borders with figures of animals, scenes from the fables of Aesop and Phaedrus, scenes from husbandry and the chase, and occasionally scenes related to the main pictorial narrative. It has been restored more than once, and in some details the restorations are of doubtful authority.
The first reference to the tapestry was in 1476, when it was being used once a year to decorate the nave of the cathedral in Bayeux, France. There it was “discovered” by the French antiquarian and scholar Bernard de Montfaucon, who published the earliest complete reproduction of it in 1730. Having twice narrowly escaped destruction during the French Revolution, it was exhibited in Paris at Napoleon’s wish in 1803–04 and thereafter was in civil custody at Bayeux, except in 1871 (during the Franco-German War) and from September 1939 to March 1945 (during World War II).
Montfaucon found at Bayeux a tradition, possibly not more than a century old, that assigned the tapestry to Matilda, wife of William I (the Conqueror), but there is nothing else to connect the work with her. It may have been commissioned by William’s half brother Odo, bishop of Bayeux; Odo is prominent in the later scenes, and three of the very few named figures on the tapestry have names borne by obscure men known to have been associated with him. This conjecture would date the work not later than about 1092, an approximate time now generally accepted.
The tapestry has affinities with other English works of the 11th century, and, though its origin in England is not proved, there is a circumstantial case for such an origin. The tapestry is of greater interest as a work of art. It is also important evidence for the history of the Norman Conquest, especially for Harold’s relation to William before 1066; its story of events seems straightforward and convincing, despite some obscurities. The decorative borders have value for the study of medieval fables.
Ten Things You May Not Have Noticed in the Bayeux Tapestry – The designer of the Bayeux Tapestry also included little details that might be missed by the casual viewer. Here are ten images to take a second look at!
Designer of the Bayeux Tapestry identified – The Bayeux Tapestry was designed by Scolland, Abbot of St.Augustine’s monastery in Canterbury, according to research by Howard Clarke of University College, Dublin.
New research on how the Bayeux Tapestry was made – A University of Manchester researcher has thrown new light on how the world famous Bayeux Tapestry was made over 900 years ago. Alex Makin –a professional embroiderer who was trained at one the country’s most prestigious institutions – says the same group of people were likely to have worked on the 70-metre-long masterpiece under the same manager or managers.
Who was the mysterious Ælfgyva in the Bayeux Tapestry? – A new theory has been put forward on a mysterious scene in the Bayeux Tapestry that appears to show some sort of sexual scandal that involved a woman named Ælfgyva.
The Garments of Guy in the Bayeux Tapestry – The Bayeux Tapestry depicts many different people and often makes subtle (and not-so subtle) characterizations of them. In her paper, Gale R. Owen-Crocker looks at how the late 11th century frieze portrays Guy, Count of Ponthieu.
How did King Harold die at the Battle of Hastings – A recent article is challenging the notion that the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson was killed by an arrow to the eye during the famous Battle of Hastings. The battle, fought in 1066, was a pivotal moment in England’s history, ushering in an era of Norman rule.
What to do if you have 10,000 hours of free time? – Andy Wilkinson has recreated a miniature version of the Bayeux Tapestry – the eleventh-century embroidery that depicts William the Conqueror’s invasion of England and victory at the Battle of Hastings. It took him 18 years to sew the 40 foot-long replica and he estimates that he spent about 10,000 hours to complete it.
Videos on the Bayeux Tapestry
The BBC’s David Dimbleby describes the historical significance of the Bayeux Tapestry for his BBC series, Seven Ages of Britain.
The Tapestry on display in Bayeux, France.
The Folio Society created this video to showcase its limited edition first continuously printed reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry. Click here to learn more about this product.
Online Articles about the Bayeux Tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry: The Case of the Phantom Fleet, by David Hill
Aelfgyva: The Mysterious Lady of the Bayeux Tapestry, by M.W. Campbell
Could Duke Phillip the Good of Burgundy have owned the Bayeux tapestry in 1430?, by George T. Beech
How English is the Bayeux Tapestry?, by David Musgrove
Possible narratives: re-telling the Norman Conquest, by Giueseppe Brunetti
Burning Down the House: Scorched Earth Tactics Suggested by Wace and Bayeux Tapestry, by Collin Davey and Monica L. Wright
Sacred Threads: The Bayeux Tapestry as a Religious Object, by Richard M. Koch
Hypertext, Hypermedia and the Bayeux Tapestry: A Study of Remediation, by John Micheal Crafton
Stylistic Variation and Roman Influence in the Bayeux Tapestry, by Gale R. Owen-Crocker
The Bayeux Tapestry and the Vikings, by Shirley Ann Brown
The Saxon Statement: Code in the Bayeux Tapestry, by Richard D. Wissolik
The Bayeux Tapestry: History or Propaganda?, by Shirley A. Brown
Les représentations du pouvoir dans la broderie de Bayeux (XIe siècle), by Philippe Lardin
La composition graphique de la Tapisserie de Bayeux, by Patrick Peccatte
The Bayeux Tapestry: a stripped narative for their eyes and ears, by Richard Brilliant
How English is the Bayeux Tapestry?, by David Musgrove
Books and Articles about the Bayeux Tapestry
Links to Other Sites about the Bayeux Tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry Images – full set of images of the tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry: Unpicking the Past – from the BBC
Historic Tale Construction Kit – you can create your own images and story from pictures and text from the Bayeux Tapestry